Share in our rich heritage

deeply rooted in tradition

 A Puerto Rican Tradition 
Over 500 Years of Rolling Cigars

In 1493 Christopher Columbus (sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain) arrived in Puerto Rico. Originally named 'San Juan Bautista' by the Spanish explorers - the name turned into Puerto Rico or "Rich Port" after they discovered gold in the river. The island was taken as a Spanish colony and quickly became a hub for cultivating and exporting goods such as cattle, sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco.

 

Spanish settlers found the indigenous Taíno population of the Americas cultivating, blending, rolling, and smoking 'tobako'. The natives called the process sik'ar, which was quickly adopted into the Spanish language as cigarro.

Taino native smoking tobacco

Tobacco became one of the primary products fueling colonization as the use of the leaves for smoking and inhaling as snuff became popular in Spain, Portugal, France, and then further into Europe by the 1570s. It was also used as a form of currency, and for medicinal purposes and referred to as the "sacred herb" or "the queen's herb" by the French.

 

Puerto Rican tobacco became the ultimate luxury of the European royalty and upper-class for almost two hundred years. Between 1460 and 1660, over half of Puerto Rico's exported shipping tonnage contained tobacco leaves and cigars.

Since then, the smoking of cigars has evolved a global sense of tradition. From 1900 until 1927 Puerto Rico produced around 35 million tons of tobacco a year. And in 2017 there were 13.5 billion cigars sold in the United States alone.

 

We at Don Collins would like to welcome you to join this ancient tradition by experiencing the flavor of an authentic Puerto Rican cigar made in the oldest surviving cigar factory in the Caribbean - a history and tradition that just can't be beat.

Porto Rico Tobacco Corporation

Porto Rico American Tobacco Corporation (now Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation)

 

Porto Rico Leaf Company was organized and chartered by Spain around 1506. This became Porto Rico Tobaco Company and later Porto Rico American Tobacco Corporation in 1898, which in turn became Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation (PRTC) in the 1920s and has operated until today. PRTC started making Don Collins Cigars in 1991.

In the year 1899 and thereafter, either the American or Continental Companies, for cash or stock, at an aggregate cost of fifty millions of dollars ($50,000,000), bought and closed up some thirty competing corporations and partnerships theretofore engaged in interstate and foreign commerce as manufacturers, sellers, and distributors of tobacco and related commodities, the interested parties covenanting not to engage in the business. Likewise the two corporations acquired for cash, by issuing stock, **642 and otherwise, control of many competing corporations, now going concerns, with plants in various states, Cuba and Porto Rico, which manufactured, bought, sold, and distributed tobacco products or related articles throughout the United States and foreign countries, and took from the parties in interest covenants not to engage in the tobacco business.

The Porto Rican-American Tobacco Company (Porto Rico)-Capital $1,799,600. In 1899 the American Company caused the organization of the Porto Rican-American Tobacco Company, which took over the partnership business Rucabado y Portela,-manufacturer of cigars and cigarettes,-with covenants not to compete. These companies became consolidated in the late 1800’s as Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation, our company name today.

The most reputed tobacco growing district of Cuba, Vuelta Abajo, became the major theater of operations during the 1897 and 1898 campaigns of the second war for Cuban independence (1895-1898). The conflict dislocated production and the relocation policies of the Spanish regime severely constrained the time that growers and work hands could dedicate to the plantations.

At the end of the war, large areas of the heavy and sandy clay soils were barren and laid to waste. Seed for the 1898-99 harvest was scarce and needed to be imported from other areas as corporate and individual planters required excellent seed to maintain the markets and international reputation of their leaf. According to the authoritative Angel González del Valle growers generally imported it from Puerto Rico. Tobacco leaf was the third leading export before the U.S. invasion and, soon after, it would be second only to sugar.Tobacco cultivation and growing in Puerto Rico experienced three major changes during the second half of the nineteenth century. The first refers to the nature of the commodity produced in the mountainsides and the narrow river-valleys of the eastern highlands identified in Map 1. The leaf that slowly ascended and spread to the Cordillera Central was not the leaf consumed domestically as chaws of tobacco and the inferior grades exported for the inexpensive markets in Europe; it was a superior leaf, if employed, in the manufacture of cigars. For instance, a nineteenth-century observer considered the leaf from Cidra excellent and, as early as 1878, merchants and manufacturers, who were then called fabricants, identified the tobacco of the highland municipality of Sabana del Palmar by the trade name of Comerío and considered it the best in the island.

By 1888, the men and women from the highlands had gained considerable experience with different varieties and growing and harvesting methods that their agricultural practices were clearly distinct from the traditional ones:31

Havana seed has been taken to Puerto Rico several times, and it has not kept its superior qualities; on the other hand, an indigenous seed provides the exquisite tobacco of Cayey, Caguas, Comerío and Morovis. By 1895, merchants and smokers alike associated the tobacco of the highlands rather than that from the northern plain or the hills to the southeast with the best Cuban tobacco. For instance, La Flor de Cayey factory: established, as it is, in one municipality of the island that enjoys the most legitimate fame due to its extensive tobacco plantations, bordering Caguas and Aibonito . . .it has become the Vuelta Abajo of Puerto Rico, it uses superb leaf. In [the 1888 Universal Exposition of] Barcelona it summoned much attention and attained, in justice, a gold medal. From that time [1860s] the intervention of some intelligent manufacturers and the increase of domestic demand, because of the shortage of Havana leaf, insured more attention on cultivation. Nowadays, the improvement is such that nobody seeks tobacco from Havana. The wrapper harvested summons prices ranging from $50 to $100 per hundredweight in their [Puerto Rican] factories. The Cuban wars for independence and the intervention of the United States in the second conflict disrupted planting, manufacturing, and commerce which resulted in benefits for Puerto Rican growers and exporters and markedly so during the second war. These fluctuations did not go unnoticed as Miguel Meléndez Muñoz, a sociologist and acute observer, held that the local economy became a thriving beneficiary of the paralyzation and ruin of Cuban industry and agriculture.

Again, Puerto Rican leaf exports present a steep rise during the second Cuban war for independence (1895-1898). In 1896, the Spanish authorities established that tobacco production in western Cuba was destined to supply the Spanish monopoly and colonial manufacture. However, as war continued to ravage the tobacco growing areas, Cuban merchants and manufacturers increased their dependency on Puerto Rican leaf44 to the extent that Cuba became the leading market for Puerto Rican leaf exports. The Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation, maker of Don Collins Cigars has been the leader, without question, in the production of the best quality leaves then and now.

In summary, domestic growers expanded and transformed tobacco agriculture along three dimensions by the end of the century. First, highland planters shifted to a leaf that fitted the model of the Havana cigar. Second, such leaf began to substitute imports from Cuba and Virginia to the extent that domestic production supplied local demand. Lastly, domestic leaf exports increased across the board but, significantly, Cuba itself became a major recipient of wrapper and filler for Havana cigars.

 

In 1991 the PRTC focused their business on crafting high quality Don Collins Cigars - a tradition that is still going strong today. We are incredibly proud to share roots with the oldest continuously operating factory in the western hemisphere!

 Our Historic Buildings 
and a Passion for Antiquity

Don Collins is also produced in the oldest continuously operated factory in the Americas, which is still owned by the Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation. The historic building was renovated in 1997 by LG Scott Architects, but still features the original architectural design and intricate metalwork estimated to be from the 1920s.

Our San Juan store & lounge located at 59 Calle Del Cristo sits in the heart of the historic Old San Juan. It is just steps away from the San Juan Bautista Cathedral, which is the site of the second oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere and the tomb of Ponce de León.

 

It is also a short walk away from the San José Church, which was built after the Puerto Rico Tobacco Company was established, and was restored in 2016 by Dr. Agamemnon Pantel and his wife Beatriz del Cueto. The church was constructed in 1532, and is one of the earliest surviving examples of 16th century Spanish Gothic architecture.

If that wasn't interesting enough, the store is located a block away from the Calle San Sebastian, where the Carnival of Puerto Rico, also known as the San Sebastian Street Festival, takes place every January in Old San Juan. This four day festival honors Saint Sebastián and is featured by a parade, music, dance, and an artisan market featuring Puerto Rican food, rum, art, jewelry, and of course cigars since 1970.

Puerto Rico Tobacco Co Factory Building

The expansive and iconic building is nestled in Bayamon next to an archeological site where natives used to celebrate an annual Sik'ar (cigar) festival. The site was studied by Dr. Agamemnon and his wife Beatriz Del Cueto, who are not only accomplished archeologists and preservationists, but whom also acted as historic preservation consultants for the Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation and Don Collins Cigars in the past.

 

Don Collins, the first owner for whom the company is named, carried a great love of native history and culture. He strived to preserve the memories and the records of the past not only in his research of the history of Don Collins, but also in all native Taíno culture and the preservation of local historic buildings and sites. We honor the ancestors of our past and we honor Don Collins by carrying on this tradition.